“Truth is universal. Perception of truth is not.”

— Anonymous

The National Museum of Korea
Changdeokgung Palace

“All things are subject to interpretation.

Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

We live in complex times. Chaos seems to be the order of the day. And despite having access to information, on multiple platforms, we’re not any closer to knowing the truth. On the outside, it’s hard to separate the truth from perception and parts — from the whole. Oftentimes, it might be easier to believe what we’re shown.

As tourists or travellers, we aren’t immune from perpetuating a perception. Some of us want to fit in, some of us don’t want to lose out on the ‘perception — painting it as an experience, and some of us couldn’t care less. And that puts pressure on a discerning traveller: to either discover what has been already discovered or let go and see what’s hiding beneath the surface.

Hongdae Nightlife
Greeting Man

“We know so little about one another. We embrace a shadow and love a dream.”
― Hjalmar Söderberg

South Korea never featured on my travel bucket list. Back then, my only exposure to anything Korean would have to be my Korean friends and the arthouse films of Kim Ki-duk. Neither being in sync with the popular perception of Korea.

Somewhere in Seoul
Re-enactment of Change of the Guard

“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”
― Edgar Allan Poe

I first visited Seoul in the summer of 2015. Tourism portals painted a picture of ‘love’ and ‘candy floss’. As I looked around, as a tourist, I saw how ‘cute’ everything was. K-pop blared on speakers, K-drama stars dominated billboards, and beauty products were the top selling souvenir to take back home. Against my better judgement, I felt it was easier to let go of reason and reality, and fall for the allure of ‘perception’. It’s comforting to succumb to escapism when it’s served on a platter.

Myeongdong Cathedral
A Restaurant with a facade of a Cathedral

“Perception is strong and sight weak. In strategy it is important to see distant things as if they were close and to take a distanced view of close things.”
― Miyamoto Musashi

Few months later, in 2016, we found ourselves in Seoul again. This time, we had to find an apartment, make new friends, and get oriented to life — without candy floss. As I struggled with language, daily chores and loneliness; I realised how different the same city looked to me. Nobody tells you how difficult moving to a new city can be and I thought I had it easy because I had lived in Seoul before. But, the same sights looked different and perceptions began to melt into reality.

Hongdae’s Nightlife

“The locus of the human mystery is perception of this world. From it proceeds every thought, every art.”
― Marilynne Robinson

It’s 2017, and I never thought I’d make it so far. I’ve made a lot of friends, both Korean and foreign, and my perception of Korea and  the countries I have or want to visit — keeps changing. And ever since, I have begun doubting my thoughts on the places and people we’ve visited? Did I get it all wrong? I feel like the disjointed bridge between the islands of perception and reality.

Chilling along the Han River

“The more I see, the less I know for sure.”
― John Lennon

Coming back to where I started. Will I ever know the absolute truth? I doubt it. When you start seeing people as individuals and appreciate them for who there are, you realise: it’s not possible to subscribe to a single truth. There’s scope for multiple truths to coexist — each being true — at a given instant or place.

Posted by:twobrownfeet

Writer-Photographer Duo. Now in Seoul.

40 replies on “The Perception of Truth

  1. This is such a reflective piece, Cheryl. Glad you feel more settled in Seoul now. I think perceptions are always changing, changing as we move around and gain experiences. I don’t think there’s every a right or wrong answer – and it just depends on how we see a certain situation or issue. I do like to hear the truth, or at least I like others to be honest with me as that is how I like to see people, that they are honest. Agree with you there is no single truth. There can be different interpretations, each supported by different belief systems and values 🙂

    1. I think you’re doing a fantastic job with interpreting and intellectualising ‘perceptions’, Mabel. It takes courage to write what you do. I’ve chosen the easy route of ambiguity. I think, more often than not, we buy into a perception because it’s popular. It’s strange how what’s popular results in making something true without the need for understanding the reason behind it. As travellers, we can go wrong too and perpetuate what’s popular, when we’re under the pressure of ‘being popular’ ourselves. It’s a stalemate situation of sorts. We set out to know the truth and come back with the same truths we already knew. 🙂

      1. I think there is so much to learn when it comes to ambiguity. Nothing nothing like pondering different perspectives and realising there are so many possibilities 😊

  2. That final paragraph sums it up perfectly, Cheryl. I don’t think there’s ever “one truth”, perceptions changes with time & experience, even with our moods and inner struggles of the time. This was such a thoughtful piece, a great read!

      1. I’ve been good! Swamped at work so not much of social life at the moment (neither at home nor online lol). Still have a couple of months to go until my next trip but hopefully time flies and departure day arrives quickly 😀

      2. hahah…So I did a WordPress search on Vietnam and guess who’s blog popped up? 🙂 Loved your posts! I hope we can get to (go) and explore as much as you did! Fortunately, Vietnam isn’t very expensive or far from Seoul. 🙂

      3. Haha! That’s awesome lol. It’s such a great place to visit. I hope you get to go as well! It’s pretty cheap when you’re there too, which is a plus. 🙂

      4. Really? I thought you traveled more than us. But, you did complete the ‘A to Z’ Challenge. That must have exhausted everything. 🙂

      5. It sure did 😂 two years of A-Z with the same theme has taken a toll. I’d need to do a lot more travel to manage the same theme next year!

      6. I know! You’ve got an incentive to keep travelling (not that I think you need one), but just in case you need to make an excuse at work, you could always say its research for your third A-Z challenge. 🙂

  3. Awesome job! The photos are great and the way you phrased your sentences were accurate! Impressive! All of these structures in the photos must have been a sight to see! Hope to see more from you. Have hope, write on!

  4. I have always held that everything is relative. Our opinions are based on experiences, which may be stray incidents​ or may be representative. There’s no one truth. It’s a beautifully written post Cheryl. Happy to read it. 😆

  5. Sometimes truths are black and white, but often they have shades of grey mixed in, depending on context. It’s not surprising we often have different interpretations. But it does get frustrating when some see black as white, just because of a preference for the shade rather than for the underlying truth.

    1. I’ve been seeing a lot more grey these days. And as you rightly pointed out, it’s frustrating because most people cannot look beyond what they’re programmed to see.

  6. This is one of the “gifts” of living abroad that I’m most grateful for. Immersing myself in new cultures, trying to learn the language, and removing myself from as many preconceptions as possible, makes us more open and “adventurous” people. Don’t you think?

    1. Couldn’t agree more, Gabe. It’s definitely a ‘gift’ to live in a different country and a different culture. I have become more open and never thought I’d add ‘adventure’ to the list of words that describe me. 🙂

  7. Thought provoking post Cheryl. It’s so different visiting a place as a tourist to actually assimilating into it. Sounds as though you’ve settled in well though which is really good to hear. xo

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